Local News

Ford Smoothly Drives Longhorns Past UNC-Asheville

Posted Updated

BIRMINGHAM, ALA. — T.J. Ford took the opening tip, streaked downcourt and sliced through several defenders for an easy layup Friday against the University of North Carolina-Asheville.

Five seconds into the NCAA Tournament, Texas was off and running.

Thought by many to be a shaky top seed, the Longhornsoverwhelmed UNC-Asheville at the start and had littletrouble in an 82-61 victory in the opening round of theSouth Regional.

"We really wanted to come out and try to get our running gamegoing in the first half," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "I thought we did a really good job ofthat."

Ford was at the forefront the whole way.

The 5-foot-10 sophomore showed why he might be the best guard in thecountry, zipping passes from all angles.

He skipped the ball down low from just over halfcourt for one basket, then flipped it overhis shoulder in transition for another hoop that made it 24-8.

Ford finished with only eight points, but he had 11 assists. Healso corralled seven rebounds, once keeping his dribble after being knocked to the floor.

"If we lose, we're going home," Ford said, "and we're not ready to gohome.

"We came out and played like it was our lastgame. Everybody stepped up today."

Brandon Mouton added 15 points. Brian Boddicker had 14 pointsand 12 rebounds and James Thomas 13 points.

Most every Texas player benefited from a pass by Ford, who mixedin several long drives.

"He is what I call a really high-octane player," said Ashevillecoach Eddie Biedenbach, a former North Carolina State assistant. "He can get it from midcourt to thepaint really fast.

"Any time you have a player like that, he's goingto cause problems."

The Longhorns (23-6) hadn't played in a week since losing to Bobby Knight and Texas Tech in the quarterfinals of theBig 12 Tournament. They advanced to the second round in the South, where they'll play Sunday against Purdue.

Asheville (15-17) was the only team in the tournament with a losingrecord even after beating Texas Southern in Tuesday night's play-ingame.

Down 29-10 on Friday, the Bulldogs did not fold. They pulled to 36-28when Alex Kragel scored the first basket of the second half.

Texas' depth and Ford's tenacity were too much, andTexas kept No. 1 seeds perfect against No. 16s in tournamenthistory.

"We always say we want to cut a big lead to 10 by halftime, soit doesn't look so insurmountable," Asheville center Ben McGonagilsaid. "We felt good about things in this one, but they put a bigrun on us at the start of the second half, and it was over."

Asheville still had a little swagger atthe end. Guard Andre Smith dunked on an alley-oop, then split theTexas defense for another slam.

Smith was called for a technicalfoul after hanging on the rim. But he managed a big smile.

The coaches also were smiling at the end, with Barnes warmlyembracing Biedenbach.

Barnes was only 23, packing boxes and substitute teaching andworking at his dad's hosiery mill when Biedenbach hired him in 1978as a volunteer assistant at Davidson.

They've remained good friends. After Biedenbach guided the Bulldogs to a surprising Big SouthTournament title, one of the first congratulatory calls he got wasfrom Barnes.

Smith scored 19 points and McGonagil 16 for the Bulldogs.Smith did it in spite of often being guarded by Ford.

"T.J. is probably the fastest guy we've played against allyear," Smith said.

Six different players scored Texas' first six baskets, and theLonghorns broke away with a 10-0 run to take a 12-2 lead.

The bigedge let Ford take a couple of rests, because he'll surely needextra energy as Texas moves on.

"We just wanted to keep sending bodies at them," Boddicker said. "At the end, itpaid off for us."

Copyright 2023 by WRAL.com and the Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.